Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hopefully less Type A than Martha Stewart

It weirdly came as a surprise to Rob awhile back when I told him I’m not creative. He thought for sure I was, citing as evidence the quirky lens through which I sometimes (usually) view the world. But I had much more evidence on the uncreative side of the scale.

I can’t look at a group of ingredients and figure out a meal to make. I buy outfits by looking at mannequins. I can’t visualize a room or a yard with a concept of how to decorate it. I’m not crafty. I don’t make things from scratch.

Instead, I follow recipes and patterns and step-by-step guides. I Google and YouTube and Facebook what others have already figured out. I color within the lines and do my best to follow all the rules. So while my interpretations and descriptions of things might be creative, that’s really as much exercise as my right brain gets.

Given all that, the past month or so has been quite an unmethodical departure. I’ve been busy with all sorts of crafty little projects. I’ve found myself buying paint and tape and glue and googly eyes and wood and varnish. I’ve followed a few instructions but mostly have totally winged it as I’ve gone along.

In other words, Rob is wondering where his linear, systematic, plan-happy wife went.

The first project was about a month ago. I always want something patriotic to wear on Independence Day but I’m never happy with any of the offerings in the mall; I always end up wearing shoes that look like baseballs instead, hoping that suffices.

Finally deciding to take matters into my own sponge-painted hands, I bought a couple of boring white tops, some multi-surface paint that alluded to being washable, and ended up with these. I’m actually quite pleased. And very relieved that they both survived laundry day.

Inspired that I could make my own clothes without a sewing machine, I am waiting for these fandom shoes to arrive. I originally had a Seahawks logo on them but just a few hours after placing my order I received a tsk-tsk nasty gram from the shoe makers informing me that licensed copyrighted franchised official logos aren’t allowed blah blah blah. Thankfully numbers aren’t trademarked (yet) so Option 12 is currently in production.

Feeling craftily confident, I then went rogue and channeled my inner grade-schooler to create three sock puppets for a video series I volunteered to produce for our church. Mind you, I have no experience making or editing videos. Or sock puppets. I just thought these sounded like skills I should acquire before I turn 50. No time to waste!

So with several burn marks from the glue gun and way more left-over felt than expected, I fashioned these three characters…from scratch.

Hall, Oates, and George
It probably helps to know we are Quakers.  And the founding
father of Quakerdom is a guy named George Fox.
And I like late '70s pop music.

Rob’s script in hand, I then spent a giggly afternoon with three teens from our Youth Group followed by a long and punchy evening figuring out some free video editing software. Our goal with the “coming attractions” videos was to create something goofy and home-spun.

Nailed it.


I decided not to give much direction cuz it 
was way more fun that way.

With my “I CAN DO IT” confidence building, my next adventure was pretty bold. Yes, even bolder than sock puppets.

I decided to finally act on some unformed ideas that had been vaguely simmering in my head ever since March when I helped a friend decorate her front porch. I provided none of the ideas, only encouragement and some detailed work with an exacto knife.

My friend’s desire to make her porch an extension of her inviting home inspired me to try to figure out how I might turn our 15 largely ignored feet of covered cement into something homey and useful.

Luring Rob – and his muscles and healthy back – into my web of ideas, we cleaned up an old wine press, spray painted flower pots, stained and varnished new crates to look old, bought an outdoor carpet and some doodads, and finally gave some TLC to an old park bench and welcome sign that looked mostly forgotten near our front door.

We both LOVE our new porch! Yes, it’s been there the whole time but until recently it was really just a place for Amazon and Zappos boxes to find a temporary home.

Last night, as we were sitting out there yet again admiring all the trees and hummingbirds yet again, Rob admitted he initially thought the idea of decorating our porch was a little silly and he couldn’t imagine we would ever use it.

Now in just a few short weeks it has become one of our favorite spots at Woodhaven. While I am absolutely thrilled by how well it turned out, I am even more in awe that Rob was such a willing participant in a project he wasn’t sure about. The language of love is spoken in many ways.

One last project:

I decided I was tired of unearthing the measuring cups every time I try to follow a recipe so I Googled “how to organize kitchen drawer” and found this awesome solution.

I can not in any way take credit for this idea – or even the labor. All I can take credit for is identifying the need and solution, placing tape, and providing encouragement and cold beverages.

But the fact that I even considered this option instead of just buying a bunch of little plastic organizey boxes to shove in the drawers gives me one more hint that my left brain has decided to take a breather.

And they all – or at least Rob – said “AMEN!”

The most surprising thing about all these little artsy-craftsy projects isn’t the fact that I actually thought to do them…although that is rather remarkable.

It’s more that as I was doing them, I found myself being OK with things not being perfect. I was OK with paint going outside of the lines. OK with visions formulating in the process instead of insisting on a fully baked idea before even starting. OK with hair flopping around and tape holding ears together.

There really is much freedom and joy in just getting out the glue and paint and googly eyes and letting ideas carry along without a firm plan. Go figure.

Between this and the coloring and the crocheting, I think I might finally be making some progress on being a little less Type A and a little more Type Ahhhh.

And they all – or at least Rob – said “AMEN!”

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A good reminder that "either or" can sometimes be "and"

I’m about two and a half months into my six months recovery from my knee surgery. All is going great so far! I continue to earn atta-girls from my physical therapist and Rob for my dedication and hard work at doing all my exercises every day. My A+ Gold Star PT Student Status is safe!

A couple of days ago, I pulled some weeds suffocating a drain in our front lawn. It wasn’t until hours later that I realized I don’t know how I got down there. I don’t think I bent over at my waist because that would hurt my back. Did I squat? Because my knee doesn’t let me squat. Or does it? It’s still a mystery how I got those weeds pulled.

Until the mystery is solved, I think it still wise...exceedingly wise...for Rob to continue assuming the litter box cleaning duties. (Yikes, that was a close one.)

With the warmer weather, I’ve been walking around mostly normally with bare, mostly shaved legs. You can easily see my scar and yet, my doctor did such an awesome job at cutting and sewing, it really just looks like I bumped into a table or something. Even Rob told me yesterday he almost asked me what I had done to my knee when he absent-mindedly saw my reminder of the peril of stepping on sticks.

I’ve been rather religious about putting Vitamin E oil on my scar. Amen to the Q-tips! I learned that trick years ago from a very surgically savvy friend. It’s so effective, I’ve been told you can barely see my 14-year-old zipper scar on my back unless you look closely. I can’t see it at all, but that’s cuz I don’t twist much.

It was news to me, though, that scars shouldn’t see the sun for about a year or so. Well, not unless you want them to be rather prominent for the rest of your life. How did I not know this? Of course, all of my other surgical scars are in places that you have to know me very well…and offer wine and dinner…to see.

Confirming this sun moratorium rumor, I came across an article written by a dermatologist that suggested that although sunscreen would help, the best course of action to prevent new scars from darkening from sunlight is to simply cover them with Band-Aids.

So me being me, I decided if I am going to be sporting a Band-Aid on my knee all summer, I may as well have some fun. Off I went to Walgreens.

My choices were Hello Kitty, Star Wars, Minions, Frozen, and Mickey Mouse.

I debated and debated and debated. How to choose?

I finally narrowed it down to either the Minions or Mickey Mouse. I eventually concluded that it was (ever so slightly) more age-appropriate for a 48 year old woman to wear Mickey Mouse Band-Aids on her knee. Plus the black and white would coordinate with more of my outfits.

Later that night, I showed Rob my new Disney-themed Band-Aid box and explained the angst in the aisle that had plagued me. I fully expected him to commend me on my wise, mature choice. Instead I got:

“Why didn’t you get both?”

And in that instant I fell in love with him all over again.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Thank you, Dad

Last weekend Rob and I attended a memorial service for a 94-year-old man who left quite a legacy in our church, community, and beyond. It was a touching service and, as so often happens, I learned a few things about Jim that I wish I had known when he was alive. So much more to talk about if I had only known what questions to ask.

Jim had three sons, all older than me and grappling with the weirdness of intense grief mixed with intense gratitude.

Each son shared a tribute to his dad, each thanking him for specific and general things Jim did. As I listened, I kept hoping Jim could hear, that he really was looking down on us, that his heart was full from being told by his three boys that he was fantastic at the most important job he ever took on.

The more I sat with those hopes, the more I knew I never want that to be me. I never want to be sitting somewhere telling other people what I so deeply appreciate about my dad and hoping to God that Dad is somehow listening.

So Dad, today I want to thank you.

Thank you for teaching me how to be a grown up. Thank you for teaching me how to accept responsibility and do things that need to be done regardless if I feel like doing them.

Thank you for teaching me how to ride a bike. I still remember turning around, fully expecting to see you still holding onto my bike’s seat and instead seeing you a basketball court away, smiling as big as I had ever seen you smile.

Thank you for helping me get through Mr. Schissler’s 6th grade math class with that awful, outdated math book from the 1940s. Thanks to you, not him, I am still a master at figuring out percentages.

Thank you for helping me become a better writer. Although I was sometimes crushed to see all the red penned suggestions, all that red ink helped me later discover a hobby that has taken me unexpected and joy-filled places.

Thank you for taking on the responsibility for a wife and a baby at only 22 years old. Many guys in your situation would have walked away, right then or later. Instead, you were a man who…49 years later…is still in for the long haul. And yes, I know Mom and I can be quite a haul!

Thank you for being an example of marriage. Thank you for showing me what commitment looks like and what a promise really means.

Thank you for teaching me the importance of always having the right tool for the job.

Thank you for serving your country in Vietnam. I remember saving all my Band-Aid wrappers for you while you were gone. I’m not quite sure what my 2-year-old mind was thinking, but I’m so grateful you didn’t come home with any big boo-boos.

Thank you for passing along your incredible organizational skills and adoration for documentation. While I don’t have nearly as many self-written How To binders as you, I am very proud of the half-dozen or so I do have.

Thank you for not telling me how weird my college boyfriend was until long after it was safe to do so.

Thank you for loving my husband and unhesitatingly embracing him as family.

Thank you for teaching me to drive a stick shift and for not getting mad when I got side-swiped by that drunk driver while I still had my permit.

Thank you for buying me my first car. We lived in a community where that was pretty normal. So ashamedly, it wasn’t until years later that I appreciated the sacrifice you and Mom made for me. I wish I could go back to that 17-year-old and open her eyes a bit.

Thank you for refusing to pay me for my grades. You knew the greater value of me striving for good grades for myself instead of for money. I continue to appreciate learning for learning’s sake thanks to what I whined was your stubbornness and tightwadiness.

Thank you for forcing me to help you do income taxes even back in grade school. All those receipts! Because of those early lessons, I am organized and prepared and unfazed when tax time rolls around each year.

Thank you for introducing me to the concept of Informational Interviews when I began searching for my first real-world job. I learned so much from people living my dream and I ended up with a couple of unexpected job offers on the spot. I have passed along your advice to other career-searchers many many times.

Thank you for crying when I was 7 years old and you told me Grandpa died. I had never seen you cry before and your tears confused me but also helped me understand that grown-ups get hurt, too.

Thank you for being my IT Tech Support…long before that term even existed.

Thank you for replacing that groovy orange set of children’s encyclopedias with that beautiful set that saved me many trips to the library in junior high and high school (hey kids today, we had it rough in the pre-Google days. We had to have our parents drive us to the library so we could look up stuff…in books!).

Thank you for taking me fishing when we lived in Montana and for trying to teach me how to take care of my freshly caught trout…even if it did lead to over 40 years of seafood aversion. But with my recent discovery of Mahi Mahi, the yuck-to-fish tide is slowly turning!

Thank you for driving your RV nearly 700 miles in one day with me, my cat, and a small cellar's worth of wine to Rob’s and my new home in Washington. And for letting me choose the radio station yet again.

Thank you for teaching me how to bowl and refusing to let me take the easy way out by rolling the ball between my legs like all the other kids. Because you were such a meanie, nearly a decade later I earned the only sports trophies of my life several years in a row. Although I don't bowl anymore because of my back, the last ball I threw was a strike.

Thank you for not tolerating me trying to use tears to get my way. I saw other kids being crybabies and it was so effective! But not with you. As an adult, I think I have more self-respect because I don’t try to manipulate people using my emotions. But wow, as I kid I sure wanted to!

Thank you for having high expectations for me. There are still few things greater to my heart than knowing I have made you proud.

Thank you for working so hard for so many years, often taking you away from the two people you were working so hard for. You made it possible for Mom to stay home with me until I was ready to be home by myself. You made it possible for me to not feel like an outcast in a ridiculously brand-name-focused community. You made it possible for me to graduate college without student loans. You never made me eat beets and sauerkraut.

Thank you for loving Mom from that first moment in the Student Union in Pocatello hanging around a pool table.

Thank you for loving me from that first moment you became my daddy.

I love you, Dad. Thank you for being mine.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Not The Cure I was hoping for

It wasn’t long into our whirlwind romance 26 years ago that Rob and I realized something we most definitely do not have in common: our musical tastes.

As we perused and compared our vinyl and cassette collections (and a few new-fangled CDs), we each found mostly loving ways to describe the other’s preferred music genre.

I quickly deemed Rob to be a fan of “Dinosaur Rock” -- bands he called Classic Rock but bands I knew pretty much nobody in their early 20s to be listening to. Styx? Rush? Supertramp? Who were these people?

Rob sized up my ‘80s Modern Rock collection and generalized it as “Four Gay Brits with a Synthesizer.” While he might have been off on the number of band members, I sort of had to admit he had a point. Hello, Erasure, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, and New Order.

Over the years, Rob and I have each proven our love for the other by gamely listening to “that other stuff” and occasionally attending concerts of mostly unfamiliar songs. Sometimes more than once (hello Steely Dan. Which one of you is Dan again?).

Until Saturday night, I think I had more points in the “I love you this much to listen to your music” column. And now, after a rather noisy and annoying evening spent with a high school favorite, I am woefully in Rob’s debt.

I wouldn’t say I’m a super duper fan of The Cure. All of their songs that I “owned” as a teen were songs I recorded off the radio and put on my own scratchy, commercial-laden mix tape. And I never saw the band in concert despite that being one of the key ways I spent the money I made tutoring and taking orders at Straw Hat Pizza. But I definitely liked The Cure and had a good working knowledge of their discography from the mid-late 1980s.

For those unfamiliar with the band, they are five Brits with some synthesizers (I suppose I could Google their sexual orientation but eh). Even if you haven’t heard of them, you’ve heard a few of their songs, trust me. If you know “The Lovecats” you know The Cure. And if you know Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons, you know Robert Smith, the lead singer.

Bob on the left, Robert on the right

Having purchased the tickets nearly two months ago, optimistic that my month old post-op knee could handle the outing, we (ok, I) excitedly arrived at the concert venue on Saturday evening to see this favorite from long ago.

Along with our arrival came with two never-before concert occasions.

First, we arrived while the opening act was playing. Never in my life have I purposely arrived at a concert late. Never. But I had no idea who the Twilight Sad opening band was and upon YouTubing some of their songs, I had no interest in hearing their melancholy moaning live and in person. So we timed it just right that the sadness was ending while I was in the merch line deciding which t-shirt to buy.

This one.
I debated getting the requisite black tee but then
decided I was much more likely to wear this '80s
pink and green one to the gym without getting overheated.

Second, we both showed our IDs (hahaha) to get drink wristbands. While I have certainly done that before, it was news to me that Rob had never thought to have an adult beverage at a concert. Whaat?? I actually made him clarify twice before I believed him. Sadly, we didn’t make use of our alcohol passes on Saturday night. But we should have.

Oh, and third: I’m pretty sure never in The Cure’s late century heyday was Huey Lewis and the News blasted from cars tailgating in the parking lot without shame or ridicule. But in 2016, I guess all ‘80s music at a Cure concert is rad and acceptable.

Once we found them, I was pleased with our seats. We had carefully chosen them about a month prior to my knee surgery trying best to anticipate what my hobbly needs might be. We nailed it with the easy access, lack of stairs, and minimal traffic.

What we didn’t anticipate was the 0.9 mile walk (according to my step tracker - #gettingold) from the parking lot. Including some hills that pre-op I wouldn’t have registered but 5 weeks post-op were gentle mountains. By the time I had consumed an awful corn dog and snagged my commemorative t-shirt, I could feel my knee swelling up under my appropriately selected black jeans.

When The Cure finally started, I didn’t recognize the song but I stood up with everyone else to cheer them on. I then realized that I might be standing for the entire concert. In recent years, I have stayed mostly seated like a civilized (#gettingold) adult for Chicago and Katy Perry and both of the Steely Dan concerts.

But with Robert Smith quivering along, I suddenly had flashbacks of teen years spent on my feet in mosh pits by the stage and then later, in front of expensive plastic chairs purchased mostly to hold my jacket.

I knew my knee was not going to be happy with all that walking and then a couple hours of standing, so I had to make the mature “what’s with her??” decision to sit down during songs I didn’t recognize.

I sat for a long time.

My view most of the concert

Somewhere about 30 minutes in, they finally played a song I knew. YIPPEE!! I hopped up and sang along to “In Between Days.” I did my best ‘80s Boy George dance sway and basked in FINALLY being at the concert I had been so excited about and had even given myself a silver and black manicure for.

About as goth as I get

Note the unsteady hand, due to my bitchin' '80s dance moves

"Just Like Heaven" was up next. I took a short video and then put my phone in my pocket so I could thoroughly be in the moment. I heard someone behind me say to her friend, “I AM SO GLAD WE CAME!” I almost turned around to give her a commiserating nod.

Ready for the next song that made The Cure famous, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t recognize it. No matter, my knee needed a rest anyway.

I sat there for another hour and a half.

I had plenty of time to observe and think about things. Among my observations:
  • Attending a concert in a state where recreational cannabis is legal is a rather novel experience. Clove cigarettes were the aroma of the concerts of my youth. The smell of pot lingered here or there, but since it was totally illegal people were pretty sneaky about it. But here in 2016 in the very herby state of Washington, I sort of felt like my plastic chair was in Cheech and Chong’s van. I found this first.

  • Although smoking was supposedly not allowed, I didn’t see that deterring many people. Including the hipster rabbi guy behind us with the long beard and black hat who serenaded my head with his smoke pretty much the entire time we were there.  Gotta admire his chutzpah.

  • Smart phones are a major part of concert going nowadays (#gettingold). Not just to wave the flashlight feature around like lighters of the past, but also to video songs and social mediaize the experience. I played along a little bit but was nonetheless dumbfounded when a guy two rows in front of us started Facetiming with a couple of kids in their living room, apparently too cheap or too far away or too young to attend the concert in person.
Not fast enough to capture the Facetime

  • Being a fan of a band 30 years ago but not paying attention to their career in the interim leaves room for a LOT of unrecognizable songs to comprise a 3 hour play set.

  • Robert Smith (Sideshow Bob) has absolutely no stage presence. He clung to his security blanket of a microphone stand most of the time I could see him. He walked around a little but it seemed it was mostly to get a sip of water. He didn’t engage the crowd and had very little to say, most of it difficult to understand because of his accented mumble. One thing I did clearly hear Bob, er Robert, say when introducing a song was that it was rarely played…ever. Yet more esoteric song selections! Super! The only performer I have ever seen who was less excited to be on stage was Annie Lenox of the Eurythmics.  And trust me, that's saying something.

  • The phrase “self-indulgent wailing” kept going through my head as a guitar player made a lot of noise during what I can only assume were songs. I could feel satisfaction and vindication oozing from Rob. I have so often complained about the senseless non-musicality of some of “his” music and yet here was an even more stunning example during one of "my" concerts. Awesome.

Finally, it was time for the predicted encore. I stood up and clapped because this meant the songs I had been waiting for were just moments away. YAY!

After a few minutes, the band returned and launched into another unrecognizable song. And then another and then another. What???

I found myself growing irritated. My knee was aching, I was coughing from all the smoke around me, I had been waiting for nearly 2 hours for any of about a dozen songs I knew, and there was Robert Smith and his band leaving the stage for yet another encore.

Seriously?? Have you ever been to a concert with TWO encores?? Unreal.

As people clapped and cheered and waved their phones around yet again, I started thinking about the concert in terms of sunk costs and time invested versus likely return (#thinkingold). I have never in my life left a concert early and yet I was considering it.

I sat through three songs of the second encore. Still no “Why Can’t I Be You” or “Let’s Go to Bed” or “Lovecats” or “Close to Me.” I was dumbfounded.

When the lightshow accompanying one song included the intense white lights slowly waving up and down to effectively blind the audience over and over, I decided I had had it. I was over it. I was done being in pain and reeking of pot and indulging the ego of a musician who seemed to be thumbing his nose at the commercial pop songs and fans that made him famous.

“Let’s go,” I said to a surprised but accommodating Rob.

I knew I had a long walk back to the car, not to mention a lengthy stay in the poorly designed parking lot if we left when everyone else did. I hobbled out of the amphitheater with resolve and disappointment.

About a quarter of the way to the parking lot, we heard it: the third…THIRD...encore began. Three encores?!? Sorry 17-year-old self, but The Cure is just not good enough to warrant three encores. Few bands are.  Not Chicago, not Katy Perry, not Steely, not even Dan.

Looking online later, sure enough: everything I wanted to hear except “The Lovecats” was played in the last 15 minutes. It turns out I have a friend who was also at the concert. She stayed until the end and thought the concert was awesome. Perhaps I would have, too, if I had had the stamina to stick around for the finish line of what had become The Cure Musical Marathon.

As it was, I enjoyed the songs I really wanted to hear the next morning. I listened to them on my iPod while spinning on my recumbent bicycle, trying to get the swelling in my knee to work its way out (#gettingold).

As I spun and listened, I reflected on the fragility of trying to recapture one’s youth. Indeed, some things are better left in the past so that time’s reality doesn’t mar the cherished memories (#actuallyOKwithgettingold).

In addition to black and silver nails, please note the hipster specs
and black leather jacket.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Kneeding to keep busy

Progress on my knee recovery is going well so far. I’ve pretty much abandoned my brace and both crutches. YAY! We have one crutch in the house and the other in the car. I keep forgetting where my House Crutch is. I think it is currently near the shower? We might be soon returning the $2.50 pair of walking sticks back to Goodwill for the next gimper to use because after 3 hobbly weeks, I think I’m done with ‘em!

As I’ve experienced with every other surgery, my days are a constant balance of activity and rest. Determining how much I need of each is worse than cooking without a recipe. My body’s needs change every day. Too much rest and my knee gets stiff and I lose flexibility and extension. Too much activity and my knee blows up like a water balloon. Ask me how I know.

(Hello, Wednesday. You were so much fun, what with greeting for the fancy tea event and then surprising a bunch of teenagers I love with the fabulous Rojo the Llama. But well, all your fun came at a price, Wednesday. Have you met Thursday? With all its ice and elevation and reduced exercises? At least Thursday also came with Bret, a very understanding and encouraging physical therapist who patted my shoulder instead of scowling at me for finally crossing the ever-moving line of doing too much.)

So yes, still lots of time on the couch. I’ve had a few moments of intense boredom but for the most part I’ve managed to keep myself amused. Among my distractions:

  • I have actually read two – TWO!! – books! As I have shamefully admitted before, I am not much of a reader. If I read three books in a year, I am doing well. So to read TWO BOOKS in three weeks is pretty astounding. Granted, they weren’t fine literature but they were quite entertaining, even after the heavy duty pain meds wore off.
Might I recommend Stuff White People Like and Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology (by Leah Remini)? I was stunned to discover I’m not nearly as white as my DNA results pegging me at 30% Great British would suggest. Perhaps if I started listening to NPR and had brunch more often?  And I learned that a belief system conjured up by a science fiction writer looks a lot like…science fiction. And jeepers, Tom Cruise is sort of crazy.

    • I am completely caught up on “60 Days In” (wow, county jail looks rough), “Jane the Virgin” and “Dancing with the Stars.” I am still working my way through hoarded episodes of “Say Yes To the Dress” (NYC but I prefer the Atlanta version. That Monty is so snarky! As are southern women, surprisingly.)

    • I have done a little online shopping. We now have a new pistachio green Princess Trimline phone because it was only $10…and pistachio green. And some handy clothes clips for traveling because I’m feeling a little itchy to go somewhere beyond my area code. And a new swimsuit top because I have visions of power washing our patio in style this summer. And a pair of Pajama Jeans because, well, have you tried them?? They are so comfy and people actually think they are jeans! And I have this new t-shirt that I plan to wear to the gym as soon as I’m allowed to go back:

    • I have also been busy on the computer. I’ve organized some digital photos, I’ve learned how to convert YouTube videos to mp3 files, and I’ve uploaded and discarded a number of free apps for editing audio files and tracking medications and finding nearby post offices. Surprising no one, I have also created a spreadsheet to keep track of all my reps and sets of daily quad sets and band stretches and step-ups and leg lifts. It’s very handy. And I’m using a bright pink Sharpie to mark off my progress, which makes me happy and brings color to my exercisey life.

    Speaking of Sharpies. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

    This was my collection before placing an order for 7 more pens. Not in new colors, mind you. In different tip sizes. Because I am very serious about this new coloring hobby, you see.

    Did you notice the little numbers on the pens? There near the bottom, written with a black Sharpie? Why might I do that? Are you afraid you know the answer?

    Yes, this.

    This right here embodies so much of what really gives me peace and joy: spreadsheets, charts, organization, order. Oh, right, and color. Pretty color. In order.

    I do fear I have a long way to go to truly get Into the Flow and just let my creativity run free range all over my adult coloring book. But finally knowing what pen equals what color is helping ease some unsettled stress (the pen caps are deceiving). I know it’s supposed to be an organic process, this coloring thing, but I like processed stuff. My Sharpie Pen Key brings me much refined Zen.


    You know what I could do?? I could laminate my Sharpie Pen Key!! OOOOH!!! A SPARK OF CREATIVITY, Toni-style!!

    Now to get myself upstairs to my laminator.  Because you know I have one.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2016

    No kneed to be concerned

    I was proud of myself for hobbling into Burgerville last week, nearly one week post-op from a knee surgery to fix a torn meniscus and a torn ACL. I was wearing my Michelin Man brace as a warning to all. My crutches were leaning on the table between me and the ketchup as yet another indication of my fragile, broken state.

    Obviously not Burgerville but close enough

    A teen girl limped over to deliver our order. She was wearing a very sturdy black Stormtrooper boot with lots of Velcro and buckles. Feeling all commiseratey, I commended her on how well she was getting around and asked what happened to her foot.

    “I got trampled by a horse.”

    Not a terribly surprising answer, I suppose, given our rural cow town.

    We chatted for a bit, every second of which I was grateful she didn’t inquire how I ended up with so much Durable Medical Equipment as fashion accessories. For if she had asked, I would have had to admit to one of the lamest reasons EVER to end up in an operating room: I stepped on a stick.

    Yep. Not even kidding.

    It happened last June and it was a stick about the size of a Costco hotdog. I was stupidly texting and walking at the same time (DON'T DO IT, kids!). In a flash of white pain, my ankle rolled and my knee went wonky and my back started spasming. It all calmed down enough for me to drive home, but later that night my knee buckled under me and made noises I never want to hear again. And thus began The Year of the Knee.

    See?  Right here is where it hurts.

    I did seek medical attention but for various reasons I didn’t get an MRI until December. The results clearly explained why six months later my knee was still achy and wobbly and I didn’t trust it: I had one large piece of meniscus flapping around and a decidedly torn ACL. I sound so sportsy, right? Me and my torn ACL? And my stick?

    For other various reasons, I didn’t have the surgery until April 21. Key among them was a “I DON’T WANNA” resistance to canceling a long-planned escape to a warm sunny place. The other was my chosen surgeon’s busy schedule.

    As anyone who knows me would expect, I did quite a bit of research to find my doctor. I got recommendations, stalked the Internet, went to several appointments, prayed, and trusted my gut.

    All of that lead to a doctor who is the knee guy for Portland’s professional basketball team. So he is busy and in demand...not to mention the playoffs.  I swear to God and Steph Curry, I am putting shots in the trash can and recycling bin with freakish accuracy ever since my surgery. Good thing, too, since it currently takes quite a bit of effort to retrieve misses off the floor.

    I also did a fair amount of research about the surgery experience itself, short of understanding precisely how the doctor was going to access part of my hamstring and turn into a new ACL. Even post-op I’m not sure my delicate countenance can handle the imagery of that medical magic.

    There seemed to be a general consensus that the first week post-op would be hellish. Pain, swelling, pain med issues, bruising, immobility, body functions slow to rebound after anesthesia, etc. And now that I am two days away from being two weeks post-op I can safely say, not really that hellish at all.

    Sure, yes, there have been some moments. Like the prickly frustration of trying to figure out how to potty in a small room with one leg completely straight in a brace. Let me just say that I spent several long days bitterly envying you standup boy folk.

    And there was one particularly ugly instance of pain and panic and fear and frustration when Rob was doing all he could to try to put an anti-swelling compression stocking on my surgical leg. Putting pantyhose on oneself is torture enough. Asking an inexperienced male to put an exceptionally snug, intentionally undersized stocking on someone with fresh sutures is just stupid. It was infinitely worse than asking Rob to paint my toenails or cut my hair (both true and sore subjects).

    If this had been my first time down the Steri-stripped path of surgical fun, I think I might still be a little shell-shocked. An immobile, swollen, painful knee is a lot to work around in trying to figure out basic activities like walking and bathing and getting dressed and sleeping. But with my default surgery mindset being that for a spinal fusion, I gotta say, this knee thing ain’t nothing. Yes, hard and lots of work. But regrettably I’ve experienced harder and workier.

    I have been and remain and will continue to be a Very Determined Physical Therapy Patient. My first appointment was less than 24 hours post-op (doc's choice, not mine).

    I have learned the hard way that you only get out of PT what you put into it. Like most of life. So I am working hard to be a Gold Star, A+ student. I have a notebook and a variety of apps tracking my progress and reminding me to exercise.  I am the poster child for the philosophy of “what gets measured gets done.”

    Bendy at Day 5!

    My determination is paying off so far. I actually made two physical therapists laugh and smile yesterday – LAUGH AND SMILE – because they were so amazed at how well I am doing. If you have ever been through physical therapy, you know the truth that is the best physical therapists make you mad at them.

    Physical therapists exist to make you do stuff you don’t want to do and are certain you can’t do. And they do it with minimal emotion; the best ones have a permanent “don’t be a wimp” purse to their lips. So to have both Steve and Ben giving me smiles and wide eyes and head shakes and double checking the files that I was indeed only 11 days post-op was a HUGE boost. And stoked my fire to continue being the top student in their clinic.

    As more evidence of my progress, my nurse cat Zak abandoned me a few days ago. When I first got home – like within minutes – that 15 pounds of purring love was on me and wouldn’t budge except for his nightly treat. (And now we know why he’s 15 pounds). For the first week, Zak was my ever present buddy and I had to keep a pillow handy to protect my knee from his enthusiasm. He knew – like animals do – that I was hurting and compromised and needed some love and attention and encouragement to just lie there.

    But then around Day 8 or 9, I noticed he was gone. I found him on our bed, happily curled up in his normal spot. He raised his head for a pat and looked at me as if to say, “You’re good now, my work is done, let me get back to my nap please.” And such it has been. He still visits my lap during the day but for the most part he’s back to his normal routine of rotating through sun spots and cardboard boxes and fuzzy blankets.

    Don’t get me wrong – despite this uncommonly good start I still have a LONG way to go. Like six more months. I still can’t figure out how to walk normally, for instance. Even out of my brace and with only one crutch, I too closely resemble the dad on “Fraiser.”

    My knee, leg, and foot are still swollen despite lots of elevation and ice. Adding fashion insult to my stick injury, the only shoes I can comfortably wear at the moment are my orthopedic Crocs. Yes, with one white compression stocking, men’s basketball shorts, and Crocs, I am a vision of post-op loveliness.

    And this brings us to Rob.

    In the midst of watching Rob take care of every last little thing in our lives during my two back surgeries, I made a life decision and finally changed my last name to his after ten years of marriage. Something about watching him live out our vows every single day.

    Nearly 16 years later, I am once again watching Rob prepare meals, clean the house, take care of several acres in the Grow-an-Inch-Everyday grass season, routinely hunt down several Alaskan villages worth of ice for my fancypants icing machine, and adjust his schedule so he can chauffeur me around to physical therapy and the grocery store and the post office just to get out of the house. He is adeptly wearing Loving Husband hat, Biggest Cheerleader hat, and Pushy Physical Therapist Assistant hat. (The challenge is for me to keep up when he changes hats. Expecting Loving Husband and getting Pushy PT Assistant is not pretty…for anyone.)

    All Rob wants in return is for me to get better. I know because he keeps telling me this every time I thank him for all he is doing. Nevertheless, I remain grateful and humbled.

    Yet another reason I am so determined to be the Best Physical Therapy Patient EVER.

    Just a few ways he is taking care of me

    Friday, April 8, 2016

    Finding freedom inside the lines

    The first time I heard someone talking about Adult Coloring Books, I thought they were joking. When they assured me they were quite serious, I assumed they were talking about something naughty that one might find in stores with lots of x’s and darkened windows. But no, really, these are unrisqué, totally upstanding coloring books for grownups. Nothing x-rated about them.

    Naturally I started pondering what would constitute pictures for adults to color. Instead of Disney characters and ponies and bunnies, perhaps images of sensible shoes or filing income tax returns or deciphering Explanation of Benefit statements from recent doctor visits?

    I found the entire idea of grown up people coloring rather goofy and was perplexed what silliness might have spawned the fad. Insert foreshadowing music here.

    Then Rob gave me one of the best birthday presents ever: an extensive variety pack of Sharpies. Score!

    I have something of a passion (one might say addiction) for colored pens. If I have to do adulty things like pay bills and take notes at meetings, at least I can do them in a rainbow of pretty colors, right? Who’s with me?

    At about the same time as I was admiring my new plastic case of new colorful markers, I was also on a quest to figure out how to relax (please note prior blog about crocheting). And I was starting to hear grown people I knew (mostly women) talking about how relaxing this adult coloring book thing was. So I unceremoniously caved.

    Picking out a coloring book was a lot more personal and discerning than I imagined. I truly thought I’d just go to Michael’s and pick up The Coloring Book and maybe some impulse-buy Gummi Bears and continue on my Grown Up Woman errands. It never occurred to me I would have several dozen different design themes to choose from.

    The books weren’t just the somewhat predictable themes of animals and plants. There were also themes of abstract designs. Some were more linear with sharp edges. Some were more swirly. Some were kaleidoscopey. Some were groovy paisley. It was so overwhelming – as Michael’s seems determined to be – that I almost abandoned my band-wagoning altogether in favor of two soothing impulsive bags of Gummies instead.

    But then I spotted The One.

    It was a weirdly instant, intuitive thing when I flipped through “In The Flow” and knew I had found my book. I immediately connected with the curves and softness of the designs. I liked that a number of them were busy without being so intricate as to require bifocals and Excedrin.

    So I snapped up my book, headed home with much anticipation and visions of gleeful Sharpie-ing, and let my coloring book sit unused on my nightstand for a good two months.

    Falling into the same category of reading a novel, I just couldn’t seem to allow myself the luxury to simply sit and color. I am hard-wired to “accomplish” stuff. I am learning the hard way that this is both a blessing and a curse. Hence my quest to learn better how to relax before I curse myself into utter and total exhaustion.

    Finally, while on vacation in a warm beachy locale, I recently forced myself to flip through my optimistically packed coloring book to see if I could maybe get Into the Flow. Within about 30 seconds, I spotted a page as the words “blues and greens” popped into my head with command and directive. And so I obeyed.

    A work in progress

    It took me about three days to finish my Very Important Work. I found myself playing with my Sharpies while Rob did a little light reading about a Muslim Marco Polo named Ibn Battutah. Yes, we decompress a bit differently, he and I.

    Just as promised, the coloring indeed proved very relaxing. I seemed to tap into a completely different and largely unexercised part of my brain as I was pushing the ink around and letting intuition guide me as to which color to use in each section.

    This stunned me since my typical approach would have been to study the design and plan out all the colors, with organization and intent. I’m not spontaneous and I’m not artistic. Things involving color (home décor, wardrobe, flower pots, nail polish) always require much thought and consideration. The freedom to just let the colors flow and not fixate on any decisions was bizarre and unfamiliar.

    As I colored, I felt myself relaxing, my breathing deepen, and my swirling brain chatter blessedly go silent.

    Despite many attempts, I have yet to figure out how the heck to meditate (see, this quest is very intentional. I’m beginning to think that’s part of the problem…). But I’ve started to wonder if the Zen-y, zoned-out-yet-singularly-focused state my pens took me to while coloring might actually be in the neighborhood of meditating.

    Although the only tangible thing I have to show for my time coloring is a mishmash of blues and greens splashed in between black lines, I utterly surprised myself by visiting a new place in my brain and loving the creative spontaneity and lack of judgment that exists there. I am grateful some silly trendy fad and my previously inexplicable fascination with colored pens can guide me to visit there again. Soon and often.

    But first, I'm pretty sure I need some more Sharpies.

    Ta da!

    Friday, March 25, 2016

    Pickled kale smoothies are next

    My unintended yet undeniable transformation into a Portland Hipster has taken one step closer. I am learning how to crochet.

    Wearing my ultra-trendy black framed Buddy Holly glasses, sipping organic rooibos tea, and rocking a t-shirt featuring a llama wearing a top hat, I’ve got my J/10 hook making knots out of a multi-colored skein of yarn from Wal-Mart. Yes, the transformation still has a ways to go. I’m sure there are free trade yarn shops I should be patronizing instead. Bad hipster.

    I’ve wanted to learn how to crochet for a few years now. In fact, I gave it a tension-filled go about 4 years ago at a women’s retreat at church. It left me contemplating trying needlepoint instead.

    This time, though, I had a much better teacher.

    Chelsea will officially be my sister (in-law) in about six months. I truly cannot wait. She already feels like family so the “not yet” qualifications to her sisterly status are getting increasingly awkward. She is fun and goofy and hysterical and smart and determined and creative. And she makes my brother-in-law the best version of himself I have ever known. So yes, I adore Chelsea.

    Chelsea also rocks because she, too, appreciates and innately understands the beauty of quiet. And quiet activities. Introverts unite! Without saying a word!

    Chelsea and I had a chance to sit quietly together on a couch a few weeks ago. With patience and clarity and starting at the beginning, Chelsea showed me how to do a slip knot and a chain and a single crochet and a double crochet and how to switch colors and how to finish. We covered a lot of territory in just two episodes of “Fuller House.”

    Although it is obviously the work of a beginner, I am quite proud of my first crocheted effort. Rob offered his support by using it as a pocket square for the evening. Good hipster.

    I have since been practicing on an ever-growing set of pink, blue, and purple knots. Admittedly I've had to consult YouTube a few times to remember how to hold my yarn right and how to do a single crochet. I will probably revisit double crocheting soon.

    I’m making good progress, although I would really love to sit next to Chelsea again and watch her work. I think my tension is off and I still can’t look up while crocheting. And I go very s l o w l y. This is actually probably a good thing since one of the aspects that attracted me to this yarny hobby is forced relaxation. I’m not very good at relaxing.

    Thankfully, I have found it very soothing to lie on the couch with music or NCAA noises in the background and work my knots. I don’t know what I’m making, but I am having a blast getting there. Zak has been helping, too.

    I do sort of worry, though, that this relaxation might be preempted by PRODUCTIVITY once I get good enough to follow a pattern and make something intentionally. I’m just a touch goal oriented (stop laughing, Rob and parents) and have an uncanny ability to turn just about anything into A Project with A Purpose. Thus my inability to relax.

    I have mentioned to a few friends that I am learning how to crochet. To a person the first comment has been, “What are you making?” thus reinforcing my concern.

    My first answer was “A bookmark.” Then as my non-project project got bigger, it turned into “A Barbie beach blanket.” Currently I fear it looks suspiciously like a pot holder.

    I have to work fast to turn it into a book cozy because a pot holder would require me using the kitchen. And although the yarn wrapper doesn’t give any warnings of flammability, I betcha I can catch a crocheted pot holder on fire in three entrées or less.

    Truth be told, my goal is to make a slouchy beanie hat so I can
    be as cooly hipster as the llamas

    (Shameless plug:  get the awesome t-shirt here!)

    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    Bake me a cake as fast as you can

    Rob turned a big birthday last week. He’s never really been keen on celebrating birthdays so it wasn’t terribly uncharacteristic that we spent his Big Birthday Ending in Zero wedged in small seats munching on peanuts and pretzels. We had places to go and people to see.

    Nevertheless, I didn’t want his birthday to go completely unfeted. So yesterday I decided I would make him dinner AND his favorite cake in belated celebration.

    After a full day of book study, haircut, gym, grocery shopping, and being on call for a friend having outpatient fun, I finally flopped home and decided I could get a cake in the oven before collapsing on the couch for a spell.

    Now since you know me and my kitchen prowess, you don’t need to ask if the cake was from scratch. You might instead ask me which brand of boxed cake mix I bought. To which I would answer I invited Betty Crocker to the party.

    Knowing better than to try to do a layer cake (hahahaha!), I reached into the dark depths of our Baking Cupboard and finally scrounged up a 9x13 pan suitable for both baking AND serving.  It may not be pretty but it's efficient.  Yay efficient baking!

    I honestly can’t remember the last time I used the cake pan (sorry, Rob) so I’m not sure when the rust splotches dotting the bottom and sides of the pan appeared. After trying to scrub them for a bit, I decided maybe 25 years was a good life for a pan and perhaps I should toss it and buy an unrusty one.

    I read the mix instructions again and noticed that there was an oven temperature option for using a glass dish. I have glass dishes! A 9x13 one even! Without rust! My well-stocked but oft-avoided kitchen saved the day!

    I whisked right along, dumping in oil and water and three newly-purchased eggs. I dirtied a spatula and a measuring cup and the counter. I was baking!

    While the cake baked at 350, I busied myself cracking and disposaling 10 eggs that reportedly expired on Feb 2. Of this year, thankfully, but still. I was just grateful they were still mostly liquid. And that I had thought to purchase their replacements earlier in the day.

    When the timer rang, I was on the phone discussing the outpatient fun, so Rob kindly offered to do the toothpick test. He set the timer for a few more minutes and motioned that when it rang again, the cake would be ready.

    When I took the cake out 3 minutes later, it looked so pretty! Yellow cakey goodness just waiting for chocolate frosting. I went back to the couch for more flopping while the cake cooled and I summoned the energy to start dinner.

    Sometime later, Rob observed from the kitchen, “I don’t think it was done after all.”


    “The cake. I don’t think it cooked long enough.”

    Wondering why he was already digging in with knife and fork without the icing on the cake, I unpeeled myself from the couch and arrived in the kitchen without my camera. I should have known better.

    The center of the cake had deflated. Like the entire center. Like it looked like I had cooked the cake with a brick artfully placed in the center so as to leave an impressively symmetric divot. Actually, my cake looked suspiciously like the Pineapple Upside Down Danish of a few years ago. I may be inept in the kitchen but at least I’m consistent?

    I stared at it, thinking maybe the divot would be a great place to put lots of frosting to even everything out. I then grabbed a toothpick and performed voodoo all over the cake. Gooeyness. Oops.

    Rob… an incredibly supportive and highly experienced good sport when it comes to my “cooking”… suggested with enthusiasm that we could just cut out the center part and turn the cake into a Bundt cake. Brilliant! I know what a Bundt cake is! Plus, he loves cake batter (it’s his favorite ice cream flavor), so he could just eat the gooey center part as an appetizer. Is he awesome or what?

    I got a knife and glopped the liquidish yellow confection onto a plate and handed Rob a fork. Two bites in, he dabbed his tongue with his finger and produced an egg shell.

    Two more bites and some rooting around and it was clear…that one shell fragment wasn’t an anomaly.

    You’ve got to be kidding me.

    I am 48 years old and somehow I managed to ruin a cake…from a cake mix…with just three added ingredients…not just one but TWO ways. I should just hang up my mixing bowl right now. Please? Good Lord!

    Looking at the clock and insistent on baking a cake for Rob, I decided that I still had time to run to the store for another box AND a new baking pan and still have dinner in prime time. Barely.

    40 minutes later, I was washing my new pan. Rob, the prophetic man that he is, cautioned, “Please don’t rush.” How does that man read my mind?!

    Going in slo-mo, I opened the second box of mix and realized I had gotten a different brand. Why do the two biggest brands of cake mix use the same two primary colors on their boxes? Without meaning to, I had thrown Betty out of the party and invited Duncan instead. Whatever. Cake mix is cake mix, right? As long as it isn’t crunchy?

    Mix, oil, and water were in the bowl, along with my first of three eggs. Being ever so careful not to add any texture to the cake this time, I apparently was a little too focused and did something I have never ever done with an egg in my life. Not even when I was five years old and my grandma was teaching me how to make scrambled eggs.

    I cracked the second egg on the counter and it fell completely out of the shell all over the faux granite. As I tried to scoop it all up and keep salmonella from hitting the floor, I started to laugh. Not quite crying laughter but close. Rob appeared as if on command.

    “Do you have any more eggs?”

    “Of course not. I only bought a half-pack.” Still laughing.

    A spatula and plate later, we had scooped up most of the free-range pre-chicken off the counter and into the bowl.

    I am relieved to report that 27 minutes later I was victorious over the second attempt at the cake. It baked just as promised without crunch or goo.  I even managed to get the frosting applied without cutting my tongue on the unnecessarily sharp Cutco spreader thingy afterwards (you don't do that twice, believe you me).

    Undecorated victory is mine!  But the cake is Rob's

    I also have completed an unintended taste-off between the two major cake mix brands. I can now proclaim Betty a better dessert guest than Duncan, despite the fact she is currently lounging in our trash can.  You'll be at our next party, Betty!  Crunch- and goo-free!  Hopefully.

    Salvaged from our recycling bin just in time

    Friday, February 19, 2016

    Ignorance is bliss…and parenting is easy!

    Rob and I don’t have kids but we got to pretend to be parents for a full 13 hours a couple of days ago. Given this vast experience, we shall soon be making ourselves available for all your parenting questions. We’ve got it all figured out, just ask us.

    Emma is a young teen from our church’s Youth Group that Rob and I lead. Due to some unavoidable business travel and sick relatives, Emma’s mom asked if Emma might be able to stay with us after Youth Group until the next morning when she had to be at school.

    Rob and I discussed it…as we do most things…and we decided we could totally handle it. The bulk of our conversation concerned having a house guest, not about having responsibility for a kid. Because, well, that part never occurred to us. We have house guests rather frequently. It didn’t dawn on me that a 14-year-old would be any different until I later realized I might have to make her breakfast at an ungodly hour (hello 7:00am).

    Emma arrived at Youth Group with all the gear she would need for the several days away from home (Emma is on tour, staying at different houses on different nights until Mom returns). I figured she would have a backpack for school and a backpack for spending the night. Silly childless me.

    We stuffed our trunk with two suitcases, two backpacks, a pillow, a blanket, and a basketball.

    When we got to Woodhaven – which Emma had never visited before – Emma asked where she would be sleeping. I told her we had a guest room and a dedicated bathroom she could use. Her eyes smiled and got wide as I realized she was probably usually offered a couch or a sleeping bag. Because, well, she’s a kid.

    Rob asked Emma if she had homework to do. She said she didn’t. We didn’t think to question her answer. Should we have? Hmmm.

    Admirably breaking my habit of offering guests a glass of wine, the three of us hung out in our living room for a bit chatting. Somewhere around 10:15pm, it occurred to me to ask Emma a question I’ve never asked a house guest before.

    “Do you have a bed time?”

    Emma smiled sort of sheepishly and answered, “10:00.” Oops.

    We discussed timing for the next morning and I was relieved to learn Emma doesn’t really like to eat breakfast. Suddenly feeling all nurturey, I told Emma she had to eat SOMETHING in the morning before school. I offered to make her a fruit smoothie. We settled on a banana instead. Parenting is easy!

    The conversation was winding down and then Emma asked, “What favorite memories do you guys have about your childhoods?”

    Rob and I were both intrigued by the question, having never been asked it before.

    I chatted for a bit about summer trips to Idaho and the Oregon coast to visit cousins. Rob talked about 4th of July celebrations with friends and neighbors and parades and fireworks. I then noticed Emma’s wheels spinning, trying to think of another question. I glanced at the clock. 10:35. A figurative light bulb went off.

    “You’re stalling, aren’t you?” I smilingly accused Emma.


    I was impressed by her honesty. But not as impressed as I was at my figuring out what she was doing. Just two hours in and I already had this parenting thing figured out. I rock!

    We shuffled Emma off to bed…thankfully still in the 10 o’clock hour…agreeing to wake her up at 7:20 the next morning. I crawled into bed, set the alarm for a time typically reserved for early morning flights out of PDX, and then lay there awake…for hours.

    I kept hearing Emma upstairs running water or closing a door. I didn’t want to go to sleep until I knew she was asleep. I have no idea why. Other house guests don’t affect me like that. Is this a mom thing?

    The next morning, Emma was up and dressed and eating a banana right on time. Again feeling all nurturey, I asked Emma if she wanted a bottle of water to take to school. She excitedly said yes; I guess the water in the fountains at school is gross.

    We were in the car 2 minutes ahead of schedule. I’m now totally confused about all those scenes in TV shows and movies and commercials where the entire family is running around like the house is on fire, trying to get out the door in the morning. I mean, you tell the kid what time you need to leave and she does it. Why all the rushing? Parenting is easy!

    As we approached Emma’s school, I was caught off guard by all the traffic and the need to be so alert so early. Flashing yellow lights and school buses and adults wearing reflective gear and lots of arms waving to direct cars this way and that way. No wonder people drink coffee in the morning.

    There was a definite dance routine for this whole School Drop Off thing but the steps were totally awkward, much like the Nae Nae. Emma was kind enough to give directions so that other parents didn’t honk at us for doing it wrong. I’m now convinced all driving tests should include a school drop off. Waaay more challenging…and ultimately more useful…than parallel parking.

    We got Emma’s gear transferred to her next host and I felt all mom-like when I told her to have a good day at school as she slung her backpack over her shoulder. Part of me wished I had thought to pack her a PB&J sandwich, apple juice, and a Ding Dong.

    Returning home, the weight and exhaustion of being a mom for 13 hours eventually consumed me. I took a two hour nap.

    Maybe parenting...even the super amenable Emma...isn’t quite as easy as I thought.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2016

    Dog Run

    My fear of dogs goes way back. I blame Mutt Mutt. Or, rather, Mutt Mutt’s owner.

    My great grandmother (absolutely *mother* not *ma*) loved her decidedly mangy version of Benji. The yappy beige dog clicked his nails all around the wood and cement floors of Grandmother Lottie’s old house. Mutt Mutt wasn’t particularly friendly to anyone other than Grandmother, least of all me.

    When we would visit (which seemed very often), Mutt Mutt would bark at me and chase me and try to nip at me. He was a small dog and I was a small 8 year old. Apparently Mutt Mutt was simply trying to play with me. Grandmother thought my terror was very amusing. I hated that dog but I hated the laughter and lack of protection more.

    And so I don’t like dogs much. Wasn’t much of a fan of Grandmother either.

    Years later, my Dog Phobia took on a new dimension when Rob and I were walking on a trail along the ocean. I was grateful to be outside on a scenic leisurely walk after being cooped up in the house for so many months following my first back surgery.

    I was rather tentative but feeling sturdy in my clamshell back brace that doubled as enormous plastic corset. No bra for months! Is that more than you needed to know?

    Suddenly, a large dog of the Doberman variety started running towards us. Dogs were supposed to be on a leash but this one had no human attached to it. Terrified, I froze. Rob tried to intervene and managed to get the dog to slow down but he wasn’t able to prevent the dog from jumping up on me, muddy front paws on my shoulders, dog breath and spittle and teeth in my face.

    The owner came running over and apologized. I think I waited until she was gone before I burst into fear-filled tears while trying to wipe the mud off my sweater. If I hadn’t been wearing my brace, my unforeseen second back surgery would have happened a lot sooner.

    And so, yeah, I reaaaally don’t like dogs much. Particularly the untrained, unleashed type.

    I have determined that I can handle tiny dogs (think slipper sized) and old, arthritic, drooling dogs. The little ones I can flick away. The old ones move slower than I do so I can out maneuver them. But any other size or age of dog and you can usually find me casually cowering behind Rob.

    Except when I am by myself. Like on my very therapeutic and greedily guarded walks alone.

    My walks heal me. They help my back feel better and they restore my spirit. I often find God on my walks, whether in music or scenery or thoughts. My walks by myself are a somewhat sacred time for me.

    Recently, because of a knee issue that will hopefully be fixed soon, I have been doing my easiest walk: our neighborhood. Two mostly flat laps on a nicely paved road lined by trees and a creek and neighbors who wave.

    Last week, though, someone insisted on joining me. Toby. A neighbor’s free range and largely untrained dog. I hadn’t seen him in a long time so I had sort of assumed…with a guilty tinge of hope…that his wild ways had finally caught up with him.

    You see, Toby is black lab mix who doesn’t wear a reflective collar. He LOVES to chase and attack cars on our private road. I have lost track how many times I have slammed on brakes or swerved or honked out of deference to Toby.

    But a few days ago, there Toby was again. And with amazing energy and agility, that large 10-year-old black damp dog was charging me and trying to jump on me.

    Prickly with fear, I yelled NO and DOWN and GO HOME with increasing desperation. I did all sorts of ill-advised pirouettes to avoid Toby literally getting in my face. My good knee wriggled a tiny bit. Thank God I was wearing my knee brace on the bad one.

    Determined not to have my walk hijacked by a dog, I continued on my path. Infuriatingly, my second lap was pretty much a repeat of yelling and dancing with Toby. Adamant and defiant, I marched up to the neighbor’s house and knocked loudly on the door. Nobody answered. I cried all the way home.

    Today, armed with a more confident Alpha Dog voice and posture, I tried my walk again. About half way to Toby’s house, he appeared in the street and then trotted back to his house. Hoping maybe his owner had called him back home, I optimistically continued towards his house. And then…there he was again, charging down the street at me at startling speed.

    I did my most convincing yelling and pointing. Although Toby didn’t put a paw on me, he sure wanted to. I looked at him and boomed (mostly to me), “THAT’S IT!”

    I marched up to the house again and again knocked with purpose. This time someone answered.

    I vaguely remember meeting Marla when she was in high school. She is now a nurse of some sort (judging from her scrubs) and has a young daughter (judging from her clingy leg accessory). Marla and I had never really chatted much before today.

    I am proud to say I was polite and friendly and non-accusatory. At least outwardly. We had a very pleasant conversation and I learned that “SIT” sometimes works on Toby. Marla demonstrated and Toby complied…and then didn’t…proving Marla right.

    Wondering about Toby’s unnatural energy, I asked with that same tinge of guilty hope how old he is.

    “Oh, he’s about a year and a half, I think.”

    I stared at her dumbfounded, recalling the decade of screeching tires and that time about 8 years ago when I bought one of those ultrasonic dog deterrent remote control thingys only to have Toby be mesmerized by it and follow me and the noise all the way home to our garage.

    A few more questions and it was revealed that Marla’s family has had several black dogs over the years. All looking about the same. All similarly managed and trained. All named Toby.

    The guilty balloon of hope popped.

    I then asked about the possibility of one of those invisible fence things that all the other neighbors have for their dogs. Nope. And seemingly no plans for one. Fantastic.

    “Do you let him out at any specific time?” I asked hopefully. “I have been walking along here quite a bit recently and I hadn’t seen him until last week.” Maybe if she saw how cooperative I was willing to be, Marla would keep her scary dog in the house or contained in the yard more often.

    “Well, we have been trying to let him out more because some neighbors,” Marla’s hand waved in a general direction over there, “complained that we were leaving him on the chain too long.”

    And in that moment, my anger and offense and they-better-do-something-about-this-and-now attitude soften. In their place were unexpected sympathy and perspective and new understanding. Suddenly a bright light was shining on Marla’s struggle instead of my own.

    “You just can’t win either way, huh?”

    Marla gave me a weary smile saturated with relief while she shook her head.

    We chatted a little more, we shook hands, and parted as friendly neighbors. Before I got to the next house, I got to practice my “SIT” command on Toby. It worked beautifully until I complimented him by saying “Good dog.” He was so excited by the praise, he tried to hug me.

    I am still nervous and I still fear Toby’s exuberance might harm me. I now have another ultrasonic dog deterrent thingy on its way from Amazon. (I threw the other one away not realizing I had a revolving door of other Tobys it might work on.)

    But now, instead of being indignant that I can’t even walk in my own neighborhood without fear of a damn dog… and instead of being filled with righteous anger that the neighbors really need to better train and care for their pets… and instead of letting fear consume and paralyze me… I am now more at peace with the idea of figuring out how Toby and I might co-exist without fear or yelling or jumping or dancing.

    Like I said, I often find God on my walks.

    Friday, January 22, 2016

    The sneaky path of assimilation

    My hubby grew up in Southern California. We hang out there at least a few times every year so we can visit large portions of his rather large family (and I mean quantity, not girth. To the contrary, I often feel like I gain 10 pounds down there just by comparison. Ugh.). Although SoCal has never felt like home to me, it does feel very familiar after 25 years of visits.

    It usually takes me a day or so to adjust to the warm glowing orb thing in the sky and all the brown and cement and retail opportunities (we have one mall in our entire county…one). But then I eventually settle into the familiarity of who sits where in the family room and stories about my father-in-law’s days in the world of ketchup and cooking oil and pudding cups. I focus on the family time and chats and (hopefully) my mother-in-law’s lasagna. For at least a little while, my life and world at Woodhaven fades into the background.

    And this is exactly as it was during our most recent visit. Until my two worlds collided with the simple reading of a newspaper.

    When we first moved to Woodhaven over 11 years ago, it wasn’t long before I was heeing and hawing at our free weekly local newspaper. The editing was so bad and the letters to the editor so deliciously small town, I quickly took to calling it The Local Rag. There were stories about horses and taxidermy and ATVs. Topics completely unfamiliar to me, serving to highlight every week how very not-from-these-parts we were in our new home.

    But then the paper was sold and a new editor was brought in. The spelling mistakes disappeared as did the lengthy Corrections section apologizing for the prior week’s multitude of reporting errors. The letters to the editor no longer railed against too many stop lights on Main Street or the unsightly trash collecting in a local park. Instead the letters took on a less provincial tone with concerns about politics and the economy and such. In other words, the paper became much more professional and thus much less entertaining. It lost the quirky, small-town, rural, decidedly not-the-SF-Bay-Area feel it once had.

    Or so I thought.

    On one of our last nights in LA a few weeks ago, I decided to read the latest issue of The Local Rag that I had tucked in our suitcase.

    As the pages fluttered in the conditioned air (in January!), I read the news with new eyes. Or rather, old eyes of 11 years ago. Having immersed myself in the trendy suburban Californianess of Orange County for nearly a week, I had unknowingly distanced myself from Woodhaven just enough to discover my newspaper hasn’t actually changed much.

    My Local Rag hasn’t lost its quirky, cowtown appeal at all. It is me that has changed. Me that no longer thinks twice about seeing a story about concealed pistol license applications being on the rise, or a 12 year old in camo proudly showing his first elk from a recent hunting trip, or a rather sizeable paid ad titled “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”

    11 years ago, I would have gasped at the publication of such a picture
    These days, I see much more graphic hunting pix in my Facebook newsfeed
    (Yes, I'm referring to you, Kayleigh)

    All of those stories are expected, typical stories to me now. They no longer scream how big a change we made when we left the San Francisco area for a new adventure. It no longer strikes me as amusing or confusing to find a story about a local Mounted Shooting Junior Champion. Sure, I still need to Google “mounted shooting” but I no longer get all itchy and twitchy about the celebration and intention of riding horses while shooting at stuff.

    I just realized I have been writing this blog while wearing a pink camo shirt. A shirt I bought about five years ago because it’s warm and looks cute with my jeans. Don't worry, though, the jeans aren't Wranglers.